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Monday, January 5, 2015

A Year of Service for U.S. Teens -- The Sooner the Better

CNN has an op-ed by retired General Stan McChrystal today, in which the General talks about his goal of implementing a year of service for kids graduating from high school.  This is definitely an idea whose time has come.  McChrystal wrote about it in the Washington Post back in November as well.

Yes, there are some parents out there who apparently worry that this will get their kids "off track."  The "track" apparently is to do well in high school, get into good college, get into good graduate school (medicine or law) and then get a good job where you will have security and income for the rest of your life.  And probably be boring as hell.

Maybe we should just let the "fast-trackers" opt out.  Like Dick Cheney and Vietnam, perhaps they have "other priorities" that are more important than working in their communities.  Perhaps their skill sets are so great that they would be wasted on the "minimum wage"-type work that a year of service might entail.

My basic message to these kids (and their parents) would be to slow down.  When you're comfortably settled in your career, and start thinking back on your youth, what will you think about?  Seven or eight straight years of over-achieving in school?  After about age 25, nobody really knows or cares exactly how old you are.  If you've spent a year doing something interesting, that makes you a bit more interesting -- especially if there's a contrast between the work you did then and the work you do now.

The idea seems to be to start with cities, so that we have a group of "service year cities."  Let's hope it catches on.

Part of the reason this is so attractive is that colleges are becoming less and less useful, and should be becoming less and less necessary.

Sadly, a college degree is important.   Yes, it does demonstrate some stick-to-it-ive-ness -- you've gone through eight semesters, gone to class nearly every day, written papers, taken tests, etc., showing that you have "learned" something.  But few people remember much of what they learned in college.  All that knowledge isn't necessary for later life or for any particular job.  And in any event, all that knowledge and learning can now be done on-line.

Perhaps the "year of service" could include not just manual labor, but also research and writing assignments, with due dates, just like college.  That might even give kids a leg up academically, as well as maturity-wise, when they first attend college.

So I sure hope something comes of this.

Here's a  link to the National Conference on Citizenship website, which has more information:

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